Subscribe to SLJ
Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Cataloguing – exact or guesswork

Recently on LM_NET and the blogosphere there has been great discussion on the Gilbert public library in Marcipoa county, Arizona forgoing the Dewey Decimal System (DDC) for a loose arrangement by 50 sections & subsections. Many librarians are shocked to the core at the concept of having a loosely arranged system with browsing instead of the precision they appreciate with the DDC. Many predict extensive frustration from people who can't find an exact title they are seeking. Others anticipate increased demands on the library staff to help patrons.  Some say move on and become more like the bookstores.

The expectation is that when you go to a library, a book will exist in exactly one location and that will remain the same for most libraries. Patrons expect the library staff to refile the books precisely in the exact location by extended Dewey number. No one expects you to remember all the Dewey numbers — although we librarians seem to score bonus points when we can recall these off the top of our heads. (There is an excellent webquest called the Book Disaster Dewey "SWAT" team to the Rescue for 5th graders to use if you are teaching this.)
But, I cannot tell you how many public libraries and some school libraries I have visited that simply don't attempt to refile precisely – particularly in the non-Dewey areas of picture books. So even when I know exactly where it's supposed to be, it might not be there. This started me thinking about other areas.  I always have to ask for help at a bookstore if I want a specific title. They don't tend to have as many terminals for OPACS as public libraries do. I wondered do we in school libraries file titles in exactly the same locations as other school libraries do?  How often do we make changes for the benefit of our users?

The same day  I received a collection of Capstone Press Graphic Library books in a series on Inventions and Discovery that arrived with the DDC categorized by subject. These graphic novel formats have information on the inventor and their area of study. My first inclination would be to change these to either file these all under invention or to file them under the biographee. Why?

If I left by them their area of study, students looking for graphic novels won't find them because I do not have the "rights" to edit my cataloguing records to show formats like graphic novels. Also, while my third grade teachers might come up with the topic of radioactivity when they do their inventors unit —  Marie Curie and radioactivity is listed under 540.92, they are highly unlikely to think of the invention of snowboarding — Jake Burton Carpenter and the Snowboard is 796.33. If I place them all under the loose invention section around 609, my third graders and their teachers will be ecstatic, but the 2nd and 4th grade teachers might forget to send students their to browse during our annual biography lessons.

This is an area where library science becomes an inexact art. I put the question out on LM_NET and the responses I received varied greatly. Many excellent librarians replied — several with extensive experience in cataloguing and teaching cataloguing (bless your heart as we say in the South). Some laughingly replied that they were too busy to ever look at the numbers. If they simply unpacked the books, scanned them in the system and put them on a shelf, then the students could use their OPACs to find them because the librarians were way too busy teaching to mess with cataloguing concerns.

Look at the range of responses:

  • Create a special Graphic Library Shelf.
  • Put them in the Inventions area because you'll be constantly fielding questions in the biography section "Where are…"
  • Put them in the Biography section because they are books about real people.
  • Leave them classified according to the area of study, but also put them in a 440/490 tag as a series which they are, then shelve them together as a mini "special collection" for the benefit of the teachers.
  • Recatalog all your biography books back by area of study and just put a dot on the spine for a biography.
  • Put them where you think the books will get the most use.
  • Consider your users and always put them where you'll meet your users' needs
  • 920 (general group biographies)
  • 607 (inventors)

One of my favorite comments I received included this anecdotal note: I even went so far as to invent numbers (!!) in my ancient history section, so that books on the Parthenon are with books on Ancient Greece, not architecture, but are grouped together within the Ancient Greek section. My edition of Dewey is beginning to look rather annotated, I have to admit.

I too want to invent numbers. For an elementary library I need a simple dewey number for the concept of opposites for kindergartners, also the color number isn't very specific, hmmm I don't like having a screw away from my simple machines even though it isn't simple and is taught as if it were….. Why are monster trucks in the sport section instead of the cars & trucks? Wonder if I should create some more havoc? OCLC are you listening?